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Job Title: Unit Publicist

Job Overview

The unit publicist is the marketing coordinator for a film that is in production. “The unit publicist's job is to be with the movie as it is being made,” says unit publicist Cid Swank. During that time, they create materials that will help sell the movie to distributors and to the public. This includes building a press kit with talent-approved stills shot during the filming of the movie, artist biographies, press releases, and other marketing materials. “Basically, you're the one providing information to the studio, the financier, as well as to the outside world, anything that is going on with the film at the location spot.”

Specials Skills and Education

Unit publicists must possess strong verbal and written communication skills. Their job is to excite others about the movie they are working on, through written materials and verbal communication. “Because communication is such a big part of the unit publicist's job,” says Swank, “you want to get a degree in a subject where you are forced to write a lot of papers. My degree is in English literature. History is a good degree to get because you have to analyze the past and write about it—which is a big part of what a unit publicist does. A political science degree or any of the liberal arts are good.” People skills and adaptability are other important talents of a successful unit publicist.

Advice for Someone Seeking This Job

Swank suggests reading Steve Rubin's book Reel Exposure. Serving as a production assistant is a good way to gain practical experience on set. Offer to work for free with another unit publicist on a small independent film.

Life experience has prepared Swank for her job as unit publicist. An example she points to is a shoot that took her to Morocco. Having previously spent time in a Muslim country, she understood the cultural differences. “When I arrived off the plane, I was wearing a dress. My upper arms were covered and my knees were covered and I wore this stupid hat … It made the Moroccans respect me all the more because I didn't get off the plane in my Banana Republic safari shorts and tank top. I knew I was going to a Muslim country and I came prepared for it. Being a woman, in a very male dominated society, they respected me all the more because I played it by their rules and was very respectful of their customs. A unit publicist is someone who has got to be a jack-of-all-trades, and understand that the movie is the first and number one priority.”

Professional Profile: Cid L. Swank, Unit Publicist

“I have always loved movies. They were a big part of my life growing up,” says Swank, who was raised in Asia in the ‘70s. American television programming was very limited in Asia at the time; movies quenched her thirst for American culture. “My parents were always taking us to the movies. It was like a family night: on Sunday we would go to a movie and out to dinner … it was such a positive childhood memory.”

Swank returned to the United States and enrolled at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Although she considered a degree in motion pictures and television, she lacked the confidence to attack the extensive application process and instead opted to major in English literature. After graduation, she accepted a marketing position at a firm in the Los Angeles area. Noticing film sets popping up around her, she wondered if there was a marketing person associated with movies.

What do you like least about your job?

“It is the task of identifying all the stills that are taken on a movie set. Everyone knows the main stars and the director, but people at the studio don't necessarily know the director of photography or the first AD. Because you take behind-the-scenes pictures, they need to know who exactly is in the picture they get. It is a very tedious task to identify everyone. It takes a lot of time.”Cid Swank

What do you love most about your job?

“Some unit publicists just love the writing aspect of the jobit's like writing a big term paper … For me, the big love is the fact that I'm paid to travel. I get to go into totally new cultures and learn how to work in that environment. That's what I love most.”—Cid Swank

Twenty-eight years old and unhappy with her job, Swank finally quit. For the next nine months she satisfied her longing to travel around the world. During those months, she became aware of movies being shot in foreign locations and began to wonder if there was a position in the film industry she could fill that would pay her to travel. While picking wine grapes in Australia, she had an epiphany and decided to return to Los Angeles to enroll at UCLA Extension, where she could learn how to make movies and try to land a job in the film business. With no financial aid from family or friends, Swank recalls, “I took my credit cards and got myself into debt enrolling at UCLA Extension, taking two classes at the beginning, because that is all I could afford. I held down a job as a waitress and a limo driver to make money to pay for rent and food.”

Swank took advantage of the internship program, applying to work 10 hours a week for college credit (no salary) as a production assistant on Guncrazy, starring Drew Barrymore. As an office PA, her primary job was to make photocopies of scripts and whatever else was needed. On her second day, she was called into the producer's office; he had her résumé on his desk. Recognizing her experience in marketing, he offered her the job of unit publicist for the film. Instead of college credit, she would earn $500 for eight weeks of work. “Since there was money involved, I said yes. I haven't looked back since.”

Swank worked hard and generated a lot of press for the film, building industry relationships along the way that got her recommended as unit publicist for another film. “The producer was so impressed with what I did for Guncrazy, she offered me $2,000 for eight weeks.” The film was a low budget independent with a relatively unknown cast and no distribution. Struggling to generate any publicity at all, she became frustrated at the lack of press interest in covering the film. A friend suggested she contact Steve Rubin, a successful unit publicist. Rubin suggested she buy his book on unit publicity, Reel Exposure.


* It is important that the unit publicist has a good working relationship with the still photographer, since they work very closely. One of the functions of the unit publicist is to alert the still photographer to potential candid shots that are important for telling the story. “Let's say there is a great moment where my director and my producer and my stars are all having a good timeI need to make sure that picture is taken. Or let's say I find out the local newspaper wants to do a story on one of my supporting actors. I have to alert the still photographer to make sure a picture is taken of the supporting actor with the lead actor, to supplement the story.”Cid Swank

* “Treat everyoneeveryonenot just your lead actors, not just your director, not just your producer, but everyone: your key grip, your grip, your craft services persontreat each person like they are important to the movie, because they are important. Treat them with respect. Always say ‘thank you’ and ‘please. ‘Manners go a long way when you're working on a film“Cid Swank

* “Be open to last minute change. Don't ever take it personally when something has to change, because it's never about you; it's about what is going on with the movie as a whole.”Cid Swank

“I went out and bought the book and read it cover to cover. It talked about all the different tasks and chores, as well as the politics of being the unit publicist on a movie set, but he never wrote about how you take a movie that has no distributor and no known actors, and get press for it; he didn't have that chapter.” Two days later, after reading the book, she called Rubin again and explained her dilemma. “He laughed and said, ‘Well, that's tough. You got a problem.’” Rubin advised she write the best press notes possible, which included biographies, synopsis, and quotes, and use it as her calling card. Over the next few years, Rubin would continue to be a mentor, answering questions and offering encouraging advice.

Before the film wrapped, Swank received a call from Nikki Palmer, the person selling the international rights to Guncrazy. Impressed with the press materials Swank had created for the film, Palmer offered her six months work on four different films for a salary of $500 a week. “That's when I quit the waitress job and I quit the limo driving job.”

Her next big break came when she was recommended to Raffaella De Laurentiis to serve as unit publicist on Trading Mom, where she worked with Academy Award winning actress Sissy Spacek. Swank continued going from project to project. Through her connection with Steve Rubin, she landed a job with Showtime in the summer of 1993 to work on The Birds II: Land's End. She continued to work various projects for Showtime, at one point accepting a three-month contract to work four different movies.

Swank's ability to maneuver the set, her understanding of industry politics, and the fact that she was a good writer, earned her respect within the film industry. Raffaella De Laurentiis recommended her to director Dino De Laurentiis and daughter Martha, who hired Swank to come to Morocco to work on two Bible stories they were filming there. Impressed with her work, the De Laurentiises promised to hire her for their next feature. Over the next few years she worked on several made for television movies, and features such as Breakdown and Stir of Echoes.

After Stir of Echoes, the De Laurentiises hired Swank for U-571. “That was a huge movie—a $95 million budget—that was shot in Rome and Malta.” Even though Matthew McConaughey was well known in the United States, he was an unknown commodity overseas, an important market for the film. It fell to Swank to educate the international press, proving she could handle big stars and an expensive movie.

Over the next two years she worked on several projects, including features Warden of Red Rock, Blast, Proof of Life, Serving Sara, and Beyond Borders. Swank has successfully combined her love of movies and travel into a career, while building a reputation for handling difficult shoots in exotic locations with ease.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in Film and TelevisionPUBLICITY AND MARKETING - Job Title: Unit Publicist, Job Title: Unit Photographer, Still Photographer, Or Special Assignment Photographer